Re-thinking employment in an age of no retirement

A tectonic shift is coming. Of that you can be sure. The economic, demographic and political plates have been moving for decades now and the pressure has been building. Change is inevitable as the socio-economic forces seek to find a new equilibrium. It might take years, even decades, but the sooner we recognise it, debate it and give it credence, the better will we be able to take advantage of the enormous opportunity that now presents itself.

The demographic & societal ‘plate’:

  • Life expectancy is now approaching 90, and it won’t stop there;
  • Healthy life expectancy is also extending, so that the average 60 year old can expect a further 11 years of healthy life;
  • Plus50 workers tend to be more emotionally intelligent, resilient, and loyal than their younger counterparts, and of course come ‘pre-loaded’ with 20+ years of skills and experience;
  • Research has proven that the productivity of plus50 workers is at least as good, if not better, that their younger counterparts;
  • Over-50s are increasingly tech-savvy, many having been working in the PC, email, Internet world for 20+ years;
  • 5-year survival rates of businesses started by plus50 entrepreneurs are 2.5 times as likely to reach their 5th birthday as ones set up by younger entrepreneurs;
  • 36% of the UK population is over 50, and growing;
  • Without a shift, there will be too many people outside the working economy supported by too few people in the economy.

The economic & political ‘plate’:

  • Government simply cannot afford to pay pensions to a growing proportion of the population that is beyond the age of 60 or 65;
  • Hence, the statutory retirement age has been scrapped, so that no company can dismiss an employee simply for reaching the State Pension Age;
  • And, the State Pension Age (SPA) as been shifted to 68, with further legislation put in place to move this even further to 70 or beyond;
  • The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) is currently working on a new policy (due for publication this month or next) called “Extending Working Lives” to encourage and support working up to and beyond the SPA.
  • The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) has commissioned a research piece from NIACE (the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education), to make recommendations on how adults can best access ‘Mid-life Career Review’ consultation and education services;
  • BIS is also working on extending their recent ‘Right to Request Flexible Working’ policy, that originally helped address the flexible working requirements of family carers, to all workers in all sectors across the UK;
  • And DWP is working on a handbook for employers to give to employees to help them plan for a richer, more productive retirement, to include (part-time) working;
  • There is a growing skills shortage in the small business sector that is increasingly limiting their ability to develop, grow and innovate;
  • The trend towards flexible, portfolio careers is accelerating with more people becoming self-employed and delivering services to multiple customers or employers.

The shift:

So the case is clear. There are more people over 50 than ever before. They are healthier, more skilled, better educated and more committed than ever before. Government cannot afford to pay them pensions until much later and it needs them to work longer. And, businesses need their skills. Small businesses and startups (which make up 95% of all UK businesses) have a particular advantage here as the over-50’s preference for flexible or part-time work helps them acquire the breadth of skills they need with their limited resource budget.

So why are we not seeing accelerating careers beyond 50? Why is the drop-off in employability so steep? I think it’s too easy to simply blame ageism stereotypes and discrimination. I think employers recognise and retain quality employees when they see them, regardless of age. I think it’s more a combination of the status quo not being challenged enough (why are success stories the exception and not the norm?), and also the lack of connecting mechanisms that enable employers to access this rich plus 50 resource pool.

A new debate is needed. One that is led by employers and not by Government policy makers or lobbyists. A debate that abolishes redundant and unhelpful vocabulary such as; age, old, retirement, pensioner, baby boomer, silver service. And replaces it with a new vocabulary that speaks to capability, productivity, commitment, energy and potential of this workforce. We are all the same after all, just at different stages on the experience continuum. There is no drop off, no hard stop, no point at which decades of experience turn instantly to redundancy. It’s simply continuous personal development, and something that employers should begin leveraging for competitive advantage.

I think it’s time to call a conference to host a resonant debate.

And we’re going to do just that.